The Christian Church and the Lost Opportunity
The Christian Church has but one job, given it by the Lord Jesus Christ with these words:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. [Matthew 28:19-20]
Ah, but here’s the rub: How exactly do you make disciples? There is the method of the Taliban whereby a military dictatorship is set up and everyone is simply ordered to be religious, whatever that might mean. Then there is the method of inculcation, the preferred means by which moms all over the world bring up their children under the favored instruction of gentle, and ongoing, instruction. A more subtle technique is to simply live as Christ would have us live, and as others see us living in the Spirit as God intended and as God instructed in His Holy Word, then discipleship will be transferred as it were by a sort of spiritual modeling.
Our country has had throughout its history seen all three methods. The first can best be exampled by the Salem period and that illustrated by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter. The second has always been afforded a chance, but I think especially in the post-world war period when families moved to the suburbs and became a kind of unified Wasp type. The third has current vogue status as the method of choice in a tolerate age, when ringing doorbells to offer up salvation’s message is thought at best gauche and at worst an example of intolerance to one’s right to unbelief.
And so how is the church doing in this age of tolerance and unbelief? It seems not too well. Although the majority of US citizens view themselves as spiritual they seem less and less inclined to stand by the banner of Religion. In the latest ARIS (American Religious Identification Survey) study, the percentage of Americans that see themselves as within a particular denomination decreased by 11% in a generation. But in a Newsweek poll this year nearly 9 out of 10 people identify as believing in a higher power. So people are still seeing themselves as spiritual, just not as inclined to join a church.
This brings me to the matter at hand. In 2009 we saw the Democratic Party take a bull by the horns, in the form of national health care. It was stated by the President that this country needed to fix a problem that was killing a person every half hour and forcing thousands into bankruptcy. Lives were being ruined. Was this the great opportunity for the church to stand up and be noticed, as being a broker for an idea whose time had come? Wouldn’t unbelievers then see that Christians were truly about doing good, showing love, and doing the work of a loving God? But if that were the case the country saw a very different church. The church of the evangelical right became a lapdog for the Republican Party and the blue dog left. It was deemed better to oppose legislation offered up by the Democrats than to work with them to solve a seemingly intractable problem.
What would have happened if the Christian church had stood up for the indigent and became their lobby for the right to have health care? Of course the Catholic Church did indeed do just that, but not the evangelical protestant groups. If they had they would have been given the opportunity not seen since the days of abolition when they worked tirelessly to end the disgrace of slavery. The church had the chance to show the country and the world that it had an agenda of its own, not that of being spoon-fed by the Republican right. And that agenda was that of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior: Blessed are the meek, the poor, and those long-suffering.
But the church, except for a few isolated examples, stood pat, silent, or worse, shouting the words written for it by conservative talking heads, words that were largely lies.
So instead of reaping the harvest of the great commission, we now have fewer disciples than ever. The church is now perceived by agnostics as a political player, a player alongside large corporate interests and lobbyists, seen as just another secular tile in a game of dominoes.
It could have been so different. But in the end maybe it will work out better. As others see the false charade that is going on in church after church in this country, others will stand out, those walking out into the dark night holding a candle burning brightly, offering shelter to those who need it, giving succor to the poor and sick. This will be the real Church, unconcerned with political gamesmanship and power politics. And the people of the Church will be easy to spot: “by their fruit ye shall recognize them.” Remember that Christ said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” My guess is that quite a few Republicans have forgotten that it is Christ’s will that we should seek, and not the Republican Party leadership.